By P. L. N. Sharma

IN 1932 I had the good fortune to attend a conference of cooperative organisations which was held at Tiruvannamalai. It enabled me to see the holy Arunachala hill and also pay a visit to Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. When I saw him he was in his hall, reclining on a couch. The hall was clean and cool and the sofa was well covered with coloured shawls and a tiger’s skin, but Bhagavan himself had only a loin cloth on his body and nothing more. In the subdued light of the hall his body shone like burnished gold and his eyes were luminous, full of flashes of some very intense inner life. The more I looked at him, the more his face seemed to be radiating a mysterious light, the source of which was somewhere deep within. I found myself unable to guess his mental state. I could not make out whether he was aware of the world or not, whether he saw me or not, whether he was in some yogic trance or in contemplation of something quite beyond my vision and knowledge.

The hall was full of silence, serenity and peace. About twenty people sat on the ground, apparently in deep meditation. When the bell rang for the midday meal, he invited us all with a nod of his head and we followed him to the dining hall. After food I was asked to clean the spot where I had eaten and take away the banana leaf which was used as a plate. Anywhere else I would have taken it as a sign of disrespect; but I told myself that it may have been a necessary lesson and swallowed my pride.

The next morning I went again to the Ashram and sat near the door facing Bhagavan. Some government officer, accompanied by a retinue of peons, entered the hall and at once started telling Bhagavan how corrupt the government servants were, how they abused and misused their positions, how they quarrelled and fought among themselves making the administration inefficient and unreliable, how he had been entrusted with the task of cleaning up the government machinery and how he was busy fighting against all the evils of the world. He complained that in his loyalty to his superiors, who had given him their confidence, and in his anxiety to make a success of himself, he had lost his peace of mind and had come to ask Bhagavan to make him calm and contented. It was clear that he thought himself to be a very important person whose request must be promptly met. After he had finished talking he looked expectantly at Bhagavan, as if saying, “Now it is your turn to show what you can do”. Bhagavan did not even look at him. The clock was striking hours, but Bhagavan was completely silent. The officer lost patience, got up and said, “You are silent, Bhagavan. Does it mean that you want me to be silent too”? “Yes, yes”, said Bhagavan, and that was all.

On the last day of our conference all the delegates went in a body to Ramanasramam and sat in the hall before Bhagavan. Sri Veruvarupu Ramdas, the President of the conference, addressed him, “Bhagavan, we are all social workers and disciples of Mahatma Gandhi. We have all sworn our lives to work for the removal of untouchability from our religion and customs. Be gracious to tell us what your views are on the subject”. Again there was no reply from Bhagavan. One could not even make out whether he had heard the question. Time was passing. The delegates were getting tired of sitting quietly and began whispering to each other. The situation grew embarrassing. Sri Yagnanarayana Iyer, the principal of Pachayappa College in Madras, got up and said, “Bhagavan, our question concerns worldly life. Perhaps it was improper to put it to you. Kindly forgive us”. “There is nothing to forgive”, said Bhagavan quite readily, and with a bright smile.

“When the ocean is surging and carrying away everything before it, who cares what are your views or mine”? The delegates could not find much sense in the answer. Only the great events a decade later gave meaning to it.

On the fourth day of the conference I went to the Ashram all alone, with the intention of asking Bhagavan a personal question. I was told by others that in Bhagavan’s presence doubts get cleared spontaneously, without the need of questions or answers. Nothing of the kind happened to me. On the three previous days I tried to catch his eye, but could not. Several times I got up to ask a question, but was not encouraged and sat down again. On the fourth day I managed to address him, while he seemed to be looking into some infinity of space. “Bhagavan, my mind does not obey me. It wanders as it likes and lands me into trouble. Be merciful to me and tell me clearly how to bring it under control”. Even before I completed the question Bhagavan turned to me and looked at me affectionately. He spoke to me most kindly and his words sparkled with meaning:

All religious and spiritual practices have no other purpose than getting the mind under control. The three paths of knowledge, devotion and duty aim at this and this alone. By immersing yourself in your work you forget your mind as separate from your work and the problem of controlling the mind ceases. In devotion your mind is merged in the God you love and ceases to exist as separate from Him. He guides your mind step by step and no control is needed. In knowledge you find that there is no such thing as mind, no control, controller, or controlled. The path of devotion is the easiest of all. Meditate on God or on some mental or material image of Him. This will slow down your mind and it will get controlled of its own accord.

Somehow I felt satisfied and there was deep peace in me when I looked at him for the last time.